Game-changing event? Here's how to communicate it
- By Eileen Cassidy Rivera
- Aug 24, 2012
Your company is moving ahead to acquire a niche company in an adjacent market. A new CEO is coming on board. Or, your once publicly traded company is being acquired by a private equity firm. In today’s evolving government contracting industry where shrinking budgets and shifting priorities have become the new norm, game-changing events are likely to occur now more than ever before.
When planning and carrying out a game-changing event, ownership, executive management, and investors carefully consider timing, resources and desired results.
These game-changing events can be a combination of accelerated revenue growth, greater dominance in a certain agency or market, revenue diversification into a priority government sector, restored credibility among employees and ultimately investors.
Identifying, defining, and communicating those desired results is often the most challenging aspect of a company’s game-changing endeavor.
Anyone who has been involved in a game-changing event can testify to the extensive time required for due diligence, planning, communications, and execution. Over the past eleven years, I’ve had first-hand experience developing and leading communications strategies at several companies and organizations which embarked on a range of game-changing events. From those experiences, I’ve learned what it takes to seize a game-changing event and make it a win-win for everyone involved
1. Take the time to understand the real drivers behind a game-changing event.
On the surface, the reasons may seem obvious: new leadership is needed to turn around lackluster revenue performance; your company’s defense-centric business is overly reliant on the same customers whose budgets are being further cut; or new ownership will give your company an injection of new energy and investment.
After digging deeper and probing leadership about the business drivers for embarking on a game-changing event, the real reasons may be very different and will impact your communications strategy. For example, it may be your company is undergoing a fundamental market shift and private ownership will allow the business to focus on long-term opportunities instead of short-term results.
Another scenario could be a new CEO is coming on board to separate the business from perceived negative actions that occurred under a predecessor’s watch which could be ‘wiped clean’ with different leadership. As the communications executive, it’s your job to ask the tough questions so you can craft and execute an effective and credible communications strategy.
2. Undertake an anthropological audit of the culture you’re about to inherit.
No matter if it’s a new CEO, new ownership or an acquisition being merged into your business, your organization’s culture will be forever altered by a game-changing event.
Yes, personalities matter.
As a communications professional, you typically possess that sixth sense and a well-honed pair of antennae that allow you to advise management on how a game-changing event should be planned, announced, and ultimately staged.
Your role is to study, analyze, and recommend how different leadership styles, employee traditions, and company customs can be meshed together, if they can. You need to help management understand that no matter how much you paid for the company, they will still celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day or wear t-shirts and shorts on casual Fridays.3. Carefully define what success means and translate for different audiences.
This is the most challenging aspect of a game-changing event for communicators as typically there are varying opinions on what success means depending on the involved party.
For employees of the company being acquired by another company, they need to know their own job security, changes in benefits, and organizational structure. On the flip side, employees and management on the acquiring side of the equation want to quickly understand the value-add and skill sets they can begin to tap for customers, future bids, and new business opportunities.
Management wants to be able describe to employees how one plus one equals three in real dollars and cents, especially as they inherit new employees to lead and supervise. “We want to grow” is an overused explanation for game-changing events. Of course, who doesn’t want to grow? Finding and describing the reasons for embarking on a game-changing event that catalyzes new energy toward accomplishing previously unattainable goals is what you must help your employees recognize and ultimately feel part of.
The media wants to know how to cover your company’s event beyond what’s written in the press release and what it means to the future of your industry. Investors want to know if they will realize a greater return on their investment earlier than expected.
At the end of the day, everyone wants to understand what success will look like, how it will feel, and what it will mean. A communicators’ ability to articulate those outcomes and then translate into clear and effective messages for internal and external audiences is the trademark of highly-skilled executive.
4. Help your CEO and executive management team become storytellers.
“Your story is your brand” has become the new mantra of corporations and organizations seeking to build presence and differentiate among the competition. While some business leaders are natural storytellers, others struggle to weave together a reasoned and compelling description of how a certain event led to their company’s turnaround or success, let alone their own.
As a communicator, you write and tell stories every day through press releases, new web site content, employee newsletters, marketing collateral, and corporate capabilities presentations. As the marketing and communications executive, you are the ‘de facto’ chief storyteller of your company or organization. You maintain and update the history books.
However, your ability to help your CEO and management team tell their company’s story is yet another trademark of a highly-skilled executive.
It’s one thing to create a timeline of your company’s history and progression through impactful events in your industry. It’s another when your CEO or senior executive can get up in front of an audience and describe how its employees were integral to your company’s success with specific examples of employee contributions and customer accolades; or how your company’s products or services have become the new gold standard that led to a highly coveted industry ranking or higher stock valuation.
There are so many ways to tell stories. By far, the best ones are those that come from the heart and don’t sound scripted. Everyone remembers a great story.
Eileen Cassidy Rivera is former vice president of communications and investor relations at Vangent, a General Dynamics company. She is now vice president of marketing and communications with Cognosante. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.